Lucknow, Aug. 12: Parents of some of the 30 children who died over the past two days at a Gorakhpur medical college have alleged that as soon as the oxygen supply stopped and the deaths began, police were sent in to throw them out and pre-empt protests.
Chief minister Yogi Adityanath and his government continued to insist today that the halted oxygen supply did not cause the deaths but at least one BJP MP from the state, Sakshi Maharaj, blamed the "massacre" on lack of oxygen.
The state government has suspended the principal of the Baba Raghav Das Medical College on the charge of delaying payment to the oxygen vendor, which led to the stoppage of supply. The principal's resignation was accepted tonight.
A health department source, however, alleged that Rajiv Mishra, the principal, had received "orders from Lucknow" to withhold the payment because the vendor had failed to grease palms in the government.
Some parents alleged that as soon as the oxygen supply was snapped on Wednesday evening, the government flooded the hospital with police to "terrorise" the patients' families. The cops allegedly ejected the children's relatives from the wards and, after the deaths, from the compound - in some instances, from the city itself.
Amit Singh of Deoria told The Telegraph: "The doctors killed my daughter Pratigya, and the police forced me out of the premises."
Vijay Lal of Kushinagar told television channels: "My 16-day-old daughter died in the paediatric ward. Policemen dropped me at the railway station in an auto-rickshaw and warned me not to return. I was scared."
Mrityunjay Singh of Padrauna, whose son was in the neonatal ward, said: "Hospital staff pushed us out of the ward on Wednesday evening. A few minutes later, a ward boy brought out my son's body. The police then asked me to leave the hospital immediately."
District magistrate Rajiv Rautela claimed the additional police deployment on Wednesday was meant to help the hospital hunt for oxygen cylinders locally. He has denied the police threw out the patients' relatives.
BJP parliamentarian Sakshi Maharaj, a monk and a firebrand like Adityanath, said India's future was in danger "if so many children died because of mismanagement".
"What happened at the Gorakhpur hospital was a kind of massacre. It happened because the supply of oxygen was disrupted," the Unnao MP told reporters in Kanpur.
According to official figures, 30 children died at the hospital on Thursday and Friday, but some sources have claimed that another 27 had died late on Wednesday.
State health minister Siddharth Nath Singh announced Mishra's suspension in Gorakhpur around noon, while insisting that the hospital had made alternative arrangements and, therefore, the children did not die because of lack of oxygen.
He said the government had transferred the money to "the account of the principal on August 5" when it came to know about the dues, "but the vendor says it received the payment only on Friday, August 11".
Siddharth Nath added that Mishra had acknowledged receiving the money on August 7. He did not clarify whether the full amount - the hospital was said to owe Pushpa Sales Pvt Ltd Rs 70 lakh - had been sent to Mishra.
A health department source claimed the medical college's account had a balance of Rs 3.86 crore on Wednesday, and the vendor went unpaid because he had "failed to oblige some senior members in the government".
"No such business operates without kickbacks," the source said. "But the principal recently received orders from Lucknow to stop the payment."
Mishra told reporters this evening: "I knew I would be made the scapegoat and had already sent my resignation letter (before the suspension was announced). But it is wrong to say that the police had forced anybody to leave the hospital."
The minister later confirmed that Mishra's resignation had been accepted, PTI said.
Government sources said over 5,000 additional police and paramilitary personnel had been deployed in Gorakhpur today to prevent violent protests.
State Congress spokesperson Dwijendra Tripathi accused the government of "trying to terrorise" the dead children's families. The Congress organised a "candlelight march" this evening and called for a shutdown across Gorakhpur town on Monday.
Ghulam Nabi Azad, Congress general secretary in charge of Uttar Pradesh affairs, rushed to the medical college this morning and demanded Adityanath's resignation.
Just hours before the oxygen supply had been cut off, Adityanath had visited the hospital, located in his parliamentary constituency, to inaugurate a new ICU and chair a review meeting.
An official of Pushpa Sales, who identified himself only as "Amit", told this newspaper in the afternoon that normal oxygen supply would resume tomorrow. "We have sent a tanker of liquid oxygen from Rajasthan's Bhiwadi to Gorakhpur," he said.
Hospital sources said two children had died today, which was below the "average".